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Connecticut Lawmakers Seek Major Gaming Expansion to Fund College Tuition Aid

Connecticut lawmakers want to drastically expand gambling in the state in order to better provide college tuition assistance.

Rodney Butler, chair of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, is seen here at the tribe’s Foxwoods Resort Casino last year. Connecticut’s two tribal casinos are seeking sports betting and online gaming privileges. (Image: Hartford Courant)

A group of Democratic legislators unveiled plans Friday to legalize additional forms of gambling. The new tax revenue that it would derive should be allocated to the state’s Pledge to Advance Connecticut (PACT) program, they say.

Formed in 2019, PACT bridges the gap of leftover financing costs after students receive federal, state, and institutional assistance. The program is designed to offer qualifying students a debt-free college education.

The lawmakers supporting Friday’s announcement want to legalize internet lottery sales, online gambling, and sports betting.

The idea that we have to make it possible for lower-income people to navigate the higher education system by at the very least not going into debt when they go to community college is so important,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-New Haven).

“Today, it is even more important to access higher education, because a high school diploma is so much more limiting now than it was many years ago,” he added.

Tribes Control Gaming

Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes have a monopoly on gambling in the state. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe respectively own and operate Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, two of the largest casino resorts in the country.

The tribes are hoping to receive state permission to soon begin operating sportsbooks.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) has expressed his support for sports betting being allocated to the Native Americans. Lamont has also said he believes Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun should be allowed to operate online gaming.

Sports betting and online gaming would give the tribal casinos an upper hand on their nearby competition in Massachusetts. Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park are not yet allowed to conduct such gaming.

The Democratic lawmakers backing the gaming expansion believe more gambling is a win-win. Tribal gaming revenue, which has greatly declined over the past decade, would presumably increase, as would the PACT fund balance.

“Here in the state of Connecticut, we rely on our workforce to propel our economy,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk). “We don’t have natural gas fields or oil wells. Our natural resources are our people.

“Ensuring we have a well-educated workforce to meet the needs of the jobs of the 21st century and beyond is exactly why PACT is so important,” Duff concluded.

iGaming Surge

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many gamblers migrating online. Gross gaming revenue from online casinos skyrocketed in the three states where interactive slots and table games were legal last year.

Foxwoods has taken a preemptive approach to sports betting and online gaming. The tribal casino announced in December a partnership with online gaming leader DraftKings.

Sports betting is operational in 20 states, plus DC. Fifteen states and the nation’s capital allow online wagering. But just five states allow online slot machines and table games, and only 10 have online lottery games.

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